The French Open showed once again just how tough a player Rafael Nadal really is. The 20-year-old Spanish Bull doesn’t have the greatest talent in the world, nor the greatest of gifts. But he does seems to have that rare ability to win at any cost.
Against Roger Federer, who many call the greatest ever, Rafa could have easily gone away after getting pounded in the first set 6-1. Instead, he just hung around and waited to get his game into gear. Once he did, the match was his.
Even at the end, when Federer won that remarkable point at 30-30 late in the fourth set that set up the break of Rafa’s serve, Nadal didn’t get down as most players would have. I’m sure many – i know i did – figured that when Fed got that break back and forced the tiebreak in fourth the Swiss would go from there and take the match.
Against other players that probably would be the case, but Rafa showed his mettle, stuck his guns, dug in and pulled out the win. Abusing that Fed backhand with high, heavy spinny balls that the Swiss cannot generate any real offense off of on a consistent basis.
Unlike guys with huge, flat two-handers like Marat Safin, Paul-Henri Mathieu, Andre Agassi, which can penetrate the court, especially cross court, Fed’s backhand is perhaps too loopy.
So where does Fed go from here? Hard to tell. He’ll likely win Wimbledon, certainly be the favorite at the US Open and finish No. 1, but his year is really shot. He’s 0-4 on the season against Nadal and may even lose to him again down the line. But the “Roger Slam”, “Calendar Slam”, etc are all history until next year when who knows just how much better Rafa will be, or how much worse Roger will be. Or vice versa.
The window for greatness in tennis is always a small one in this sport. Just ask Lleyton Hewitt and Juan Carlos Ferrero. Both players ruled the sport just three years ago, and many figured back then they would have been in the hunt for many years to come. But that didn’t happen. Even look at Andy Roddick.
That said, Roger has a short time to figure out how to beat Rafa. Two, three years at best before a realistic chance of him winning the French Open is over. Afterall, who knows how many new “Nadals” are on the horizon.
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